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Guest Feature: Layla AlAmmar
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We are close to finishing the first week of 2023! I hope all of you are staying healthy.
I know normally I include some kind of interesting story or shout out up here, and I will do my best to continue that in this new year.
But for now, with RSV, COVID, the flu, and everything in between spreading from person to person, I do genuinely hope you all are feeling okay and taking all precautions (like wearing a mask) when you can.
Okay friends, let’s get right into it. I am so excited to introduce this week’s guest feature: Layla AlAmmar!
Layla has a master's in creative writing from the University of Edinburgh, and she recently completed a PhD focusing on Arab women's literature and literary trauma theory from Lancaster University. She has been published in The Evening Standard, the TLS, the Guardian, Lithub, Arablit Quarterly, and Aesthetica Magazine, where she was a finalist for the 2014 Creative Writing Award. In 2018 she was the British Council International Writer in Residence at the Small Wonder Short Story Festival. Her first novel, The Pact We Made (2019), was nominated for the Edinburgh International Book Festival First Book Award and the Author's Club First Novel Award. Her second novel, Silence is a Sense (2021), was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing.
I mean, what better way to start 2023 than with an incredibly talented writer and dope human being, am I right?! An incredibly thoughtful and insightful person, Layla is someone that I’ve secretly been angling to have join the newsletter and talk about some of her go-to music. I think you all will appreciate (as I did) the way Layla weaves her identity and her humanity into these songs:
1. What is your favorite song right now?
I've been on a major Abdel Halim Hafez kick the last few months! He's been really great for helping get my PhD thesis across the finish line. I've always had an appreciation for the classics, Umm Kulthum, Fairouz, etc, but his tone and delivery just grip me. And when his voice is combined with Mohammad Hamza's lyrics and Baligh Hamdy's composition, the result is pure magic. So those songs are the ones I've had on repeat the last few weeks — “Gana el-Hawa”, “Maw'ood”, “Zay el-Hawa”. I also would often have his 1968 concert in Tunisia on in the background while I worked.
2. What’s your go-to song for all your feels?
There are two songs that never fail to bring me to tears. The first is “Picture in a Frame” by Tom Waits, which is simply the most romantic song ever composed and I will fight anyone who says otherwise. The second is Umm Kulthum's “Seret El-Hob”. The lyrics in that song are heartbreaking and on point in so many ways. Real moment: my love life is that song, except I never get to the “aabiltik inta la'aytik” part!
3. Name a song that reminds you of home.
I grew up in Kuwait, so I was exposed to a range of music, from Western to Khaleeji to North African. My mom is Texan, so she played a lot of country in the house, but I never really got into it much. The songs that remind me of home are the ones my friends and I would listen to while driving up and down the Gulf Road or skipping class to get ice-cream. “Ya Rayah” by Rachid Taha was played a lot as well as music by the Kuwaiti band Miami. Queen's “Bohemian Rhapsody” is an excellent car song, obviously, so there was much singing along to that. On my own, I had “Feel Good Inc.” by Gorillaz on repeat because Damon Albarn.
4. Name a song you know all the words to.
“Que' Onda Guero” by Beck. I'm a HUGE Beck fan so honestly I could probably recite the lyrics to all his songs, but “Que' Onda Guero” is one I've listened to a lot over the years. Another one is “Cowboy” by Kid Rock. I'm not a fan of his at all, so I can't explain how this happened, but it's a fact. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
5. Name a song that gets you really hype and ready to go.
“That Black Bat Licorice” by Jack White or “Seven Nation Army” or “Ball and Biscuit” by The White Stripes... basically any Jack White banger. Queens of the Stone Age is also good for this or “Pretty Visitors” by Arctic Monkeys. Bowie, the Beatles, the Kinks, I can get hype with any of them really.
Big shout out to Layla for joining and sharing her song selections! All of Layla’s songs will be included in this week’s playlist, so be sure to take a listen. Make sure you go follow Layla on Twitter!
What I’m Listening To
🎧 Middle Eastern, North African, & Diaspora Flows 🎧
Ya Hasra - Dalia
Hope - NumbXiller
Casanova - 7ari
Zy Nar - Dana Durr featuring Dakn
Boba - Soulja
Novacane - Adam Nabeel
Sun Goes Down - HASNA
7ALA - Afroto
Hadath Jalal - Emsallam
Victoire - Marwa Loud featuring F1rstman
🎤 Latinx & Hispanic Vibes 🎤
PANA - Braulio Rios featuring Kristal Fonrodona
La Vida Isleña - Skeptic Musica
Riri - Young Miko
Tumbao - Letan featuring Mesita and Franux BB
CHAO BEBE - Ovy On The Drums featuring Ozuna
Cuidado - Weapons of Mass Creation
En Secreto - La Favi
Tu Gravedad - Willy C
Cambiaste - Yahritza Y Su Esencia
Agüita de Coco - Rafa Pabön
🎼 Other Good Music 🎼
They Don’t Love Me - Gangsta Boo
Many Roads - Zinoleesky featuring Ayra Starr
Go Easy, Kid - Monica Martin featuring James Blake
Montage - India Thieriot
Rumble - Skrillex featuring Fred again… and Flowdan
Aw’ufani Nabanye - DJ Stokie featuring Ben Da Prince and Nkosazana_Daughter
We Caa Done - Popcaan featuring Drake
Controller - Waje
I Need Ya - Somebody’s Child
Messy - Ivorian Doll
What I’m Reading
🇱🇧 Lebanon 🇱🇧
Saida: Garbage is again being collected but the crisis is not far away - Zeina Antonios, L’Orient Today
The contract of NTCC, the company in charge of collecting trash from Saida’s streets, has been extended until mid 2023, but the state owes it LL30 billion in unpaid bills since 2019.
All Is Not Well with Uber Lebanon - Hala Nasreddine, Daraj
Rebecca Rykes’ murder five years ago put the spotlight on Uber for all the wrong reasons, while the Uber Files show how the giant firm lobbied hard to force its way into Lebanon. Many people claim the firm still does not meet rules and regulations. Yet Uber denies it operates outside the law.
Lebanon's children face growing hunger crisis - Jamie Prentis, The National
Cases could surge unless urgent action taken, warns Save the Children.
One careful step at a time through Lebanon’s minefields - Anna Foster, BBC News
It is hard to predict how long it will take to clear the remaining 20% of contaminated Lebanese land.
The secret histories of Medawar 749 - Jim Quilty, L’Orient Today
Architect Nathalie Chahine walks L’Orient Today through a typical 19th-century Beiruti house, and the unique project underway to restore it.
🌍 Middle East, North Africa, & Diaspora 🌎
In a Hospital Ward, the Wounds of a Failed Democracy Don’t Heal - Vivian Yee, The New York Times
Tunisia’s road to democracy began with a self-immolation, and such cases have filled hospital burn wards ever since, as elected leaders failed to deliver on a promise of prosperity.
Between war and red tape, many Iraqis lack official papers - Tony Gamal-Gabriel, Agence France-Presse
The absence of civil status documents obstructs access to basic services such as "education, healthcare, and social security benefits", according to the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR.
Boston’s Little Syria: The Rise and Fall of a Diasporic Neighborhood - Chloe Bordewich and Lydia Harrington, Al-Jumhuriya
Syrians joined several other immigrant communities in making up what we might consider “Ottoman Boston”—families and individuals who migrated from Ottoman territory to Eastern Massachusetts from before the founding of the US through the aftermath of WWI.
As a Researcher, I Study the Health of Palestinians. It’s Time to Pay Attention. - Yara M. Asi, The New York Times
“Looking only at physical well-being as it relates to the aftermath of shootings in the West Bank or bombing campaigns in the Gaza Strip flattens the experience of living, working, playing, raising children, going to school and trying to build a life in such an environment of uncertainty, trauma and violence. One that has lasted for decades and may easily last decades more.”
Egypt’s pound sinks to new low in biggest fall since October devaluation - Heba Saleh, Financial Times
North African country agreed to let its currency fluctuate as part of $3bn IMF deal.
🎶 Music, Arts, & Culture 🎶
Blu Fiefer: The Lebanese Powerhouse on Entering Her Villain Era - William Mahfoud, SceneNoise
Producer and singer-songwriter, Blu Fiefer discusses her most recent album, “Volume 1” and launching her new label, “Mafi Budget”.
Gangsta Boo, The Southern Rap Pioneer - Precious Fondren, The Gumbo
The rapper and emcee died last week. This piece, from 2020, delves into her influence and stature in hip-hop.
The Hit Man: Sleiman Damien is behind your favourite music - Nasri Atallah, Esquire Middle East
Esquire Middle East sits down prolific hitmaker bridging the worlds of big budget Arab pop and homegrown indie.
Hannah Khalil’s demonstration of the uniquely feminine power of oral storytelling - Zeina Saleh and Dalia Al-Dujaili, AZEEMA
The Palestinian-Irish playwright tells AZEEMA why she wanted to reimagine A Thousand and One Nights from the female perspective, whilst explaining her career-long devotion to subverting the notions of a ‘meek’ Arab woman and redefining the her place onstage.
Saudi Arabia eyes its own pop music, called ‘S-pop’ - Shirin Jaafari, PRI The World
Five years after Saudi Arabia lifted its ban on musical events, the kingdom is now looking to create its own version of pop music inspired by South Korea’s K-pop. The World’s Shirin Jaafari reports.
📚 Other Reads 📚
On the Streets of Dakar, a Kaleidoscope of Style - Simbarashe Cha, The New York Times
The capital of Senegal has become a fashion center. But photographing stylish people going about their day isn’t as easy as clicking a button.
A Toxic Stew on Cape Cod: Human Waste and Warming Water - Christopher Flavelle, The New York Times
Climate change is contributing to electric-green algae blooms. Massachusetts wants a cleanup of the antiquated septic systems feeding the mess, but it could cost billions.
Our Tote Bags, Ourselves - Maija Kappler, The Walrus
How a humble bag became a humble brag.
Why the Godfather of Human Rights Is Not Welcome at Harvard - Michael Massing, The Nation
Ken Roth, who ran Human Rights Watch for 29 years, was denied a fellowship at the Kennedy School for having the temerity to criticize Israel.
The Instagram Reels Gold Rush - Jacob Sweet, The New Yorker
Influencers discovered they could earn tens of thousands of dollars on the platform by making simple reaction videos.